Three things we think we know heading into Thursday’s Game 2 of the World Series:
1.The Detroit Tigers can’t play defence. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Sort of. But some of the San Francisco Giants hitters believed going into the World Series that making contact and putting pressure on the Tigers corners would be one of the keys to World Series success, which explains their approach to Justin Verlander. The Tigers are in trouble without strikeouts in this Series, as was shown in Game 1 when they couldn’t come up with a rally-ending play. Third baseman Miguel Cabrera was crossed up on an Angel Pagan bouncer that wicked off the bag with two out in a four-run third inning, and his lack of range caught up again on a bouncer past him in later innings. The Giants have been getting all sorts of defence out of the likes of left-fielder Gregor Blanco and shortstop Brandon Crawford. When the Series shifts to Detroit for Games 3, 4 and 5, Delmon Young will be at designated hitter for the Tigers (that will help).
2. ‘The Freak’ is adapting. Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum raised an eyebrow after Game 1 when he was congratulated on his “transition” to a bullpen pitcher, pointedly saying that he was not certain this was a career move. Still, the two-time Cy Young Award winner, who suffered a puzzling drop in velocity – as much as six or seven miles per hour - this season and lost his spot in the Giants rotation, has turned into something of a weapon for manager Bruce Bochy out of the bullpen. General manager Brian Sabean has all but said that Lincecum’s long-term future with the organization will be a topic for discussion as soon as the post-season is over, and there are real concerns among baseball people that his winding, back-breaking delivery – given to him by his father as a means of off-setting his lack of physical stature – may not allow him to maintain the same effectiveness with a more nuanced arsenal of pitches. Perhaps it’s the fact he won a World Series in 2010, but Lincecum has somehow turned the negative into a positive. His entry into the game is an event that now energizes the Giants dugout, and catcher Buster Posey believes pitching from the stretch has first and foremost allowed him to regain his confidence. In 10 2/3 relief innings, he has struck out 14 and most importantly walked just one batter, with a 0.83 earned run average. Lincecum said he would be good for another inning in Thursday’s Game 2, but Bochy said he would likely stay away from him, with Friday’s off-day on the horizon.
3. Things go better with Coke: Justin Verlander’s outing could have been a one-off, but Jose Valverde is still a mess. Lost in the fallout of Sandoval’s offensive heroics and the tag-team excellence of Barry Zito and Lincecum was the fact that the Tigers closer was so ineffective it would not be a surprise to see manager Jim Leyland stay away from him the rest of the Series. Valverde said on Monday that he believed he had used the Tigers six-day layoff to correct an issue with his leg lift that had messed up his tempo. Wednesday, he came in with his team trailing 6-1 and gave up four hits while retiring just one batter (Lincecum) on 19 pitches. Despite hitting 92, 93 and 94 miles per hour on the radar gun,Valverde was done in by repeated missed location, leaving all his pitches over the plate. His body language after coming out suggested a resignation, and Leyland said later that “for whatever reason, the ball just doesn’t seem to be coming out right. It’s a bit puzzling, but it just looks as if it isn’t exploding in there.” Valverde, who had 35 saves, has effectively lost the closing job to Phil Coke after giving up nine runs and 11 hits in 2 2/3 innings. Tonight’s Giants starter, Madison Bumgarner, has also had mechanical issues and given up 10 hits and 15 runs in eight postseason innings. Like Valverde, he says he thinks he has it figured out. We’ll see.